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Egg freezing – the post-lockdown rise in popularity and the legal implications

A recent report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has found that more women than ever are freezing their eggs in the UK. There was a 64% rise between 2019 and 2021 – mainly put down to consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. With news outlets picking up this story and several celebrities more candidly opening up about their own personal experiences, we at Vardags look at: what the process involves; reasons for the rise; and the practical and legal considerations of freezing your eggs.

What is egg freezing?

Egg freezing is a means of preserving a womans fertility at a certain age, with the intention of trying to have a child in future. The process involves a womans eggs being collected and frozen; they are then thawed at a later point to use, and injected with a partner or donors sperm, which then hopefully leads to a successful pregnancy.

Why has there been such an increase?

  • More transparency and awareness
    • Several famous faces have recently begun documenting their experience with egg-freezing, this has likely led to it being seen as not only more common, but even trendy by those who follow celebrities lives.
    • With more conversation around fertility issues has come a greater awareness of other avenues to tackle such problems – egg-freezing being one of the routes on offer for those either struggling with fertility, who want to delay having children or for other reasons.
  • Post-lockdown issues
    • The aftermaths of the COVID-19 lockdowns have been the feeling that people have lost time. It could be that women and/or couples want to delay parenthood or take pressure away from dating while life returns to pre-COVID freedoms and they catch up with their peers.
    • Egg-freezing can extend and preserve a womans fertility – therefore, if women and/or couples are feeling the pressure of time more since COVID-19 – this can be seen as an option to buy them more time.
  • Focus on careers
    • Much has been made of the question of whether a woman can have it all. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, women wishing to focus on their careers in their 20s and 30s may put starting a family on hold as a result.
    • Egg-freezing can be viewed as a safety net for extending fertility into a womans late 30s, early 40s and sometimes beyond.


What are the legal rules and implications?

  • Rules on how long you can store eggs
    • On 1 July 2022, the rules significantly changed over how long you could store eggs – the law now allows eggs (as well as sperm and embryos) to be stored for use in treatment for a maximum of up to 55 years.  Prior to this, it was only up to 10 years.
    • Importantly, for the storage to be lawful, consent to the storage must be renewed every 10 years. The clinic storing your eggs will contact you in advance, providing the relevant forms and should also provide counselling before you give consent.
    • It is therefore vital to keep the clinic up to date with any contact/address changes, as if they cannot locate you to get your consent, your eggs are at risk of being removed from storage and disposed.
    • The law further provided that sperm, eggs or embryos may remain stored and used for up to 10 years in the event of the death of a partner who gave their prior consent.
  • Using eggs for surrogacy
    • It is worth noting that many women who freeze their eggs may not go on to use them themselves for various reasons.
    • It may be that the eggs are used to create an embryo which is then implanted in a surrogate. The surrogacy process is not straightforward and requires a legal process to be followed for legal parenthood to be transferred from the surrogate to the intended parent. This is because in England – the legal mother is considered to be the woman who gave birth to the child, regardless of the fact that there may be no genetic link between her and the baby.
  • Using eggs for donation
    • It is also possible for you to donate your eggs – whether to someone else who wants a family or for training and research purposes. Each of these options has consequences and requirements.
    • To donate your eggs to someone who wants a family, you should speak to the clinic and must provide your consent. Egg donors can receive compensation for donations, but it is illegal to pay for egg donation in the UK. You will have no rights or responsibilities to any children born from your donation.
    • If you donate eggs (or sperm or embryos) after 1 April 2005, any children born from donations may find out certain information about you when they reach both 16 and 18 years old. This means that by the time any child reaches the age of 18 they may know your full name, address, date of birth as well as other personal information. It is therefore important to consider the implications of this before you donate.


What things should you consider if you want to go through the process?

  • Find a clinic
    • It is vital to use a clinic that is reputable and experienced – clinics that are registered with the HFEA are likely to be best.
  • Medical leave from work for treatment
    • The eggs are retrieved under general anaesthetic or sedation, usually after the woman has taken a course of drugs for a few weeks to increase her egg production.
    • This treatment can affect women negatively and may require them to take medical leave from work.
    • Although there is currently no statutory right to time off for fertility treatments, many companies now have fertility leave policies; it is worth checking with your HR department before you go through the process.
  • What happens if you dont use the eggs?
    • Recent research suggests that only 16% of women go on to use their frozen eggs; this means a vast number are sitting unused in clinics.
    • If you dont use your eggs, then you may donate them – see above.
    • You can also retract your consent for them to be stored, and they will be disposed of.
  • Reproductive options: frozen eggs versus frozen embryos
    • Frozen embryos require sperm for insemination, whereas eggs may be frozen without being fertilised, which allows for more autonomy and flexibility.
    • However, there is a slightly higher chance of frozen embryos surviving the freezing/thawing process than frozen eggs.
    • Also, frozen embryos can be preserved longer than frozen eggs due to the make-up of their cells.
  • Cost
    • The average egg-freezing, thawing and transfer process is currently between £7,000 to £8,000. Therefore, there are significant costs involved.
  • Specialist legal advice
    • If you are unsure of your rights in relation to egg-freezing or are considering donating your eggs or using them for surrogacy – we at Vardags have an expert team of children and family law specialists who can provide advice and support with our specialist knowledge in these areas.
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